Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American social activist, abol
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early woman's movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized woman's rights and woman's suffrage movements in the United States.
Before Stanton narrowed her political focus almost exclusively to women's rights, she was an active abolitionist together with her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton and cousin, Gerrit Smith. Unlike many of those involved in the woman's rights movement, Stanton addressed a number of issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights. Her concerns included women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family, and birth control. She was also an outspoken supporter of the 19th-century temperance movement.
After the American Civil War, Stanton's commitment to female suffrage caused a schism in the woman's rights movement when she, together with Susan B. Anthony, declined to support passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She opposed giving added legal protection and voting rights to African American men while continuing to deny women, black and white, the same rights. Her position on this issue, together with her thoughts on organized Christianity and women's issues beyond voting rights, led to the formation of two separate women's rights organizations that were finally rejoined, with Stanton as president of the joint organization, approximately 20 years later.
Early activism in the Women's Rights MovementPrior to living in Seneca Falls, Stanton had become a great admirer and friend of Lucretia Mott, the Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist whom she had met at the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in the spring of 1840 while on her honeymoon. The two women became allies when the male delegates attending the convention voted that women should be denied participation in the proceedings, even if they, like Mott, had been nominated to serve as official delegates of their respective abolitionist societies. After considerable debate, the women were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance. They were soon joined by the prominent abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who arrived after the vote had been taken and, in protest of the outcome, refused his seat, electing instead to sit with the women.
Mott's example and the decision to prohibit women from participating in the convention strengthened Stanton's commitment to women's rights. By 1848, her early life experiences, together with the experience in London and her initially debilitating experience as a housewife in Seneca Falls, galvanized Stanton. She later wrote:
"The general discontent I felt with woman's portion as wife, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women, impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. My experience at the World Anti-slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin -- my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion."
In 1848, acting on these feelings and perceptions, Stanton joined Mott, Mott's sister Martha Coffin Wright, and a handful of other women in Seneca Falls. Together they organized the first women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20. Over 300 people attended. Stanton drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, which she read at the convention. Modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence, Stanton's declaration proclaimed that men and women are created equal. She proposed, among other things, a then-controversial resolution demanding voting rights for women. The final resolutions, including female suffrage, were passed, in no small measure, because of the support of Frederick Douglass, who attended and informally spoke at the convention.
Soon after the convention, Stanton was invited to speak at a second women's rights convention in Rochester, New York, solidifying her role as an activist and reformer. Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis invited her to speak at the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850, but because of pregnancy, Stanton chose instead to lend her name to the list of sponsors and send a speech to be read in her stead. In 1851, Stanton was introduced to Susan B. Anthony on a street in Seneca Falls by Amelia Bloomer, a feminist and mutual acquaintance who had not signed the Declaration of Sentiments and subsequent resolutions despite her attendance at the Seneca Falls convention.
Although best known for their joint work on behalf of women's suffrage, Stanton and Anthony first joined the temperance movement. Together, they were instrumental in founding the short-lived Woman's State Temperance Society (1852–1853). During her presidency of the organization, Stanton scandalized many supporters by suggesting that drunkenness be made sufficient cause for divorce. Stanton and Anthony's focus, however, soon shifted to female suffrage and women's rights.
Single and having no children, Anthony had the time and energy to do the speaking and traveling that Stanton was unable to do. Their skills complemented each other; Stanton, the better orator and writer, scripted many of Anthony's speeches, while Anthony was the movement's organizer and tactician. Writing a tribute that appeared in the New York Times when Stanton died, Anthony described Stanton as having "forged the thunderbolts" that she (Anthony) "fired." Unlike Anthony's relatively narrow focus on suffrage, Stanton wanted to push for a broader platform of women's rights in general. While their opposing viewpoints led to some discussion and conflict, no disagreement threatened their friendship or working relationship; the two women remained close friends and colleagues until Stanton's death some 50 years after their initial meeting.
While always recognized as movement leaders whose support was sought, Stanton and Anthony's voices were soon joined by others who began assuming leadership positions within the movement. These women included, among others, Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Ideological divergence with abolitionists and the women's rights movementAfter the American Civil War, both Stanton and Anthony broke with their abolitionist backgrounds and lobbied strongly against ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, which granted African American men the right to vote. Believing that African American men, by virtue of the Thirteenth Amendment, already had the legal protections, except for suffrage, offered to white male citizens and that so largely expanding the male franchise in the country would only increase the number of voters prepared to deny women the right to vote, both Stanton and Anthony were angry that the abolitionists, their former partners in working for both African American and women's rights, refused to demand that the language of the amendments be changed to include women.
Eventually, Stanton's oppositional rhetoric took on racial overtones. Arguing on behalf of female suffrage, Stanton posited that women voters of "wealth, education, and refinement" were needed to offset the effect of former slaves and immigrants whose "pauperism, ignorance, and degradation" might negatively affect the American political system. She declared it to be "a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom [of civil rights] first." Some scholars have argued that Stanton's emphasis on property ownership and education, opposition to black male suffrage, and desire to hold out for universal suffrage fragmented the civil rights movement by pitting African-American men against women and, together with Stanton's emphasis on "educated suffrage," in part established a basis for the literacy requirements that followed in the wake of the passage of the fifteenth amendment.
Stanton's position caused a significant rift between herself and many civil rights leaders, particularly Frederick Douglass, who believed that white women, already empowered by their connection to fathers, husbands, and brothers, at least vicariously had the vote. According to Douglass, their treatment as slaves entitled the now liberated African-American men, who lacked women's indirect empowerment, to voting rights before women were granted the franchise. African-American women, he believed, would have the same degree of empowerment as white women once African-American men had the vote; hence, general female suffrage was, according to Douglass, of less concern than black male suffrage.
Disagreeing with Douglass, and despite the racist language she sometimes resorted to, Stanton firmly believed in a universal franchise that empowered blacks and whites, men and women. Speaking on behalf of black women, she stated that not allowing them to vote condemned African American freedwomen "to a triple bondage that man never knows," that of slavery, gender, and race. She was joined in this belief by Anthony, Olympia Brown, and most especially Frances Gage, who was the first suffragist to champion voting rights for freedwomen.
Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and ardent abolitionist, agreed that voting rights should be universal. In 1866, Stanton, Anthony, and several other suffragists drafted a universal suffrage petition demanding that the right to vote be given without consideration of sex or race. The petition was introduced in the United States Congress by Stevens. Despite these efforts, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, without adjustment, in 1868.
By the time the Fifteenth Amendment was making its way through Congress, Stanton's position led to a major schism in the women's rights movement itself. Many leaders in the women's rights movement, including Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe, strongly argued against Stanton's "all or nothing" position. By 1869, disagreement over ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment had given birth to two separate women's suffrage organizations. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded in May 1869 by Anthony and Stanton, who served as its president for 21 years. The NWSA opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment without changes to include female suffrage and, under Stanton's influence in particular, championed a number of women's issues that were deemed too radical by more conservative members of the suffrage movement. The better-funded, larger, and more representative woman suffragist vehicle American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded the following November and led by Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, supported the Fifteenth Amendment as written. Following passage of that Amendment the AWSA preferred to focus only on female suffrage rather than advocate for the broader women's rights espoused by Stanton: gender-neutral divorce laws, a woman's right to sexually refuse her husband, increased economic opportunities for women, and the right of women to serve on juries.
Believing that men should not be given the right to vote without women also being granted the franchise, Sojourner Truth, a former slave and feminist, affiliated herself with Stanton and Anthony's organization. Stanton, Anthony, and Truth were joined by Matilda Joslyn Gage, who later worked on The Woman's Bible with Stanton. Despite Stanton's position and the efforts of her and others to expand the Fifteenth Amendment to include voting rights for all women, this amendment also passed, as it was originally written, in 1870.
Death, burial, and remembranceStanton died of heart failure at her home in New York City on October 26, 1902, nearly 20 years before women were granted the right to vote in the United States. Survived by six of her seven children and by seven grandchildren, she was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been unable to attend a formal college or university, her daughters did. Margaret Livingston Stanton Lawrence attended Vassar College (1876) and Columbia University (1891), and Harriot Stanton Blatch received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Vassar College in 1878 and 1891 respectively.
After Stanton's death, her unorthodox ideas about religion and emphasis on female employment and other women's issues led many suffragists to focus on Anthony, rather than Stanton, as the founder of the women's suffrage movement. Stanton's controversial publishing of The Woman's Bible in 1895 alienated more religiously traditional suffragists, and cemented Anthony's place as the more readily recognized leader of the female suffrage movement. Anthony continued to work with NAWSA and became more familiar to many of the younger members of the movement. By 1923, in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, only Harriot Stanton Blatch paid tribute to the role her mother had played in instigating the women's rights movement.Even as late as 1977, Anthony received most of the attention as the founder of the movement, while Stanton was not mentioned.
The monument for Henry Brewster Stanton and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Woodlawn CemeteryOver time, however, Stanton received more attention. Stanton was commemorated along with Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony in a sculpture by Adelaide Johnson at the United States Capitol, unveiled in 1921. Originally kept on display in the crypt of the US Capitol, the sculpture was moved to its current location and more prominently displayed in the rotunda in 1997. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton House in Seneca Falls was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Her house in Tenafly, New Jersey was declared a landmark in 1975, and by the 1990s, interest in Stanton was substantially rekindled when Ken Burns, among others, presented the life and contributions of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Once again, attention was drawn to her central, founding role in shaping not only the woman's suffrage movement, but a broad women's rights movement in the United States that included women's suffrage, women's legal reform, and women's roles in society as a whole.
Stanton is commemorated in the calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church on July 20, together with Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman.